Learn about life afloat the easy way

Life on a narrowboat can be as peaceful as it is idyllic BUT you need to understand the pros, cons, highs, lows, and day to day logistics in living on England's inland waterways. Let me help you find out all you need to know before you commit to what could be a very expensive mistake.


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Detailed narrowboat running costs for March 2013

Oh boy, oh boy oh boy! The expenses keep on coming. I’m determined to get James in a suitable condition for long term cruising after the boat’s spent over a decade of decline stuck on a marina mooring. There’s been a huge amount to do. Sometimes I think I might have been better off spending more on a better boat. But then I look around me and know that I spent my money on the right boat. I just wish that the spending would slow down a bit.

Electricity: Each mooring has a 230v electrical supply which is charged at 20p per unit and topped up cards available from our reception.  I generally buy 3 x £10 electricity cards at a time. Two purchases this month so the solar panels (see below) aren’t contributing much so far – £60

Gas: I bought two 13kg cylinders this month, one at the beginning and one at the end of March – £45.90

Coal: The need for constant heat continues. My stove has been on continually now for six months. I bought ten bags of Pureheat briquettes on 7th March and then another ten on 30th March – £215.60

Mooring: Mooring costs £2,300 a year – £191.66

Maintenance & Repairs: The upgrade continues. I think we’ve broken the back of it now but it’s been such an expensive month.

Solar panels – Tim Davis installed his popular 300w system with MPPT controller on 8th March. I think that the sun has come out twice since then. Still, while the panels basked in the not so warm sunshine, they generated a maximum of 17 amps. I assume that we’re going to get one or two cloudless days this year and that the cloudy days are going to be slightly warmer than the weather we’ve “enjoyed” so far this year. So far the additional power produced by the panels hasn’t had any impact on my electricity costs. Time will tell £995

New flooring – For the last three years I’ve put up with very tired and wafer thin beige carpet. It didn’t look very atractive, nor was it practical with dirty dog paws and the inevitable but rare accident. We’ve had Colonia light oak laminate flooring planks fitted. We’re delighted with the result. The boat looks newer, fresher and far more welcoming.

Unfortunately the fitting hasn’t been completed. The fitter discovered that a section of the original ply floor was rotten. The area is in the centre of the boat undearneath the roof and side hatches. During James decade of neglect, the old wooden hatches decayed and allowed water to pool on the floor beneath.

There’s a section about the size of a dustbin lid which needs replacing. The rotten wood can’t be cut out and replaced with new because there arem’t any bearers underneath the damaged section to support the new ply. I think that a new section of flooring is going to have to be laid on top of the old and a feature made out of it so that the repaired section doesn’t stand out like a sore thumb – £640

Inverter – I’ve spent very little time away from the marina and away from the every so convenient mains power that I can plug into via my shore line. Each trip out has been without the ability to run my laptop, television or other 230v appliances. I’ve just had a Sterling 1600w pure sine wave inverter fitted. An inverter takes the DC 12v power stored in the boat’s leisure battery bank and converts it into AC 230v power so that you can run mains appliances while you’re off your mooring. I currently have one 110amp starter battery and two 135amp leisure batteries. So that the inverter has enough power to draw from for a reasonable length of time, I need to increase the leisure battery bank to 4 x 135amp. I’ll do that next month – £360.69

Fire extinguishers and blanket – My Boat Safety test is due in April. No that’s not quite true. James hasn’t had a boat safety test since it came into the marina in 1997. I don’t know what issues there are going to be yet, but I know that I have to upgrade the 230v ring main and replace the sub standard fire extinguisher and add a fire blanket. I’ve bought three 1kg powder extinguishers and a fire blanket for the galley – £56.59

Floormat – I bought a polycarbonte wafer thin transparent floormat to protect the new flooring from abrasion by the castors on my office chair. I know from past experience how quickly flooring can be damaged from constant back and forth rolling – £31.94

New Batteries – When I moved onto James the botat had just one starter and one leisure battery. I doubled the domestic battery bank at the time to two 135amp, but it wasn’t really enough. Now I have my solar panels producing a decent amount of free electricity, I need somewhere to put it. I’ve now doubled the domestic bank again to four 135 batteries. At the same time I’ve replaced my 110am starter battery which wasn’t holding a charge. £233.70

Carbon Monoxide Alarm – It’s literally a life saver. Carbon monoxide is produced by the solid fuel stove. If the stove’s not shut or working correctly, the odourless and tasteless gas can leak into the boat and kill you. The cost of the alarm is a very small price to pay to ensure that you don’t die in your sleep £26.31

Maxigrab Magnet – Most boaters like to throw things of value into the water now and then. I’m no exception. Providing the item of value in question is steel, it can be retrieved using a strong magnet and a length of cord. My new magnet is tiny but it can lift 50lbs, more than enough to retrieve my folding bike or windlasses and mooring pins and chains. – £25.99

Bolt Cutters, mole grips and fenders – The bolt cutters and mole grips are to aid removing debris from around the propeller. There’s always a chance of picking up debris as your boat ploughs through shallow canals. The bolt croppers are very handy for cutting stubborn wire. I also needed to replace a couple of work truncheon fenders.

Maintenance and repairs total – £2,370.22

Our technology needed upgrading this month too.

Laptop – My old laptop had beco,me virtually unusable. The cursor had developed a mind of its own and jumped about the page like a spring lamb. The resulting correction of incorrectly inserted text took as long as the initial typing. Given that I spend a minimum of four hours each day typing, the problem was driving me mad. It’s my birthday next week so Sally bought me a new one. It has a gazillion magabyte hard drive and more memory than I can shake a stick at. I love it. – £500

Printer – I suppose we don’t really need a printer, but it makes life so much easier. It’s an all in one WiFi printer, copier, scanner and fax machine (do people still use fax machines?). It’s the Epson WF-2530 and was a bargain at £59.99

Total technology expenses – £559.99

Other expenses for March…

Of course, the boat expenditure is only a part of the cost of life on the boat. Here’s what we spent on our day to day expenses in March.

Internet: I’m still using the excellent 15GB per month mobile broadband service from Three – £19.80

Telephone (Mobile): Sally and I both have mobiles on contract and Sally has an iPad, also on contract. If you’ve been reading the weekly newsletters recently you’ll know that I had my online identity stolen this month. I had to close my bank account which meant that the direct debit for T Mobile failed. T Mobile have agreed to defer payment until next month.

Laundery: Calcutt Boats as two washing machines and a dryer for moorers’ use. We only use the washing machines. Sally hangs the damp washing inside the boat. It’s dry within 24 hours. The washing machines take tokens which we buy at reception. Each token costs £1 and keeps the washing machines going for 45 minutes. – £30 (Does everything need to be so clean Sally?)

Groceries: We eat well but not extravagantly. The total includes £27.96 for wine – £314.43

Eating out: We enjoy a coffee in a cafe and the occasional meal out. Two treats in March. We went to The Boat House in Braunston twice for a meal. It’s on the Grand Union close to Braunston junction. They have a permanent two main meals for the price of one deal on. Sadly it doesn’t include the sweets – £48.80

Entertainment:Two books downloaded for my Kindle this month plus my first paperback purchase since I bought my Kindle in December 2010. It’s The Water Road by Paul Gogarty. It’s an excellent read but it isn’t available digitally. Sally bought a book too and then we had the additional unexpected expense of a Lovefilm monthly subscription that we cancelled three month ago. According to Amazon we didn’t cancel the subscription, we simply took a three month “holiday”. They won’t give us our money back. We also bought some cheap DVDs from Blockbuster  £36.75

Car: Just fuel for the car this month – £72.56

This is an example of the monthly expenses detailed in my guide Living on a Narrowboat: The REAL Cost of a Life Afloat. If you’re seriously considering buying a narrowboat to live on it’s an essential read. Some of the costs listed in this article are optional. You may be able to live on less than we do, but many of the costs that apply to us will also apply to you too.  Many potential boat owners mistakenly think that a narrowboat floating home is a low cost alternative to bricks and mortar. Nothing could be further from the truth. Please read the guide before you make a very expensive mistake.

 

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Paul Smith
 

After six and a half years living on a narrowboat on England's inland waterways, Paul and his wife Cynthia wandered Europe by motorhome during the winter, and on the Dutch and French waterways in the warmer months on their 35' Dutch motor cruiser. However, the pull of England's muddy ditches proved too much for them. Now they're back where they belong, constantly stuck in mud in a beautiful traditional narrowboat.